For most players of the Algerian women’s national wheelchair basketball team a dream came true last month. They helped a continent make Paralympic history, because at Rio 2016, Algeria became the first African women’s wheelchair basketball team to play in a Paralympic Games. We found out about their Rio experience and what their future plans are:
IWBF (International Wheelchair Basketball Federation) realised that to ensure there was growth and development in the women’s game in Africa there had to be a legitimate opportunity for the women’s programme to retain an at least one place at a major World Event.
IWBF Secretary General, Maureen Orchard, said “We were delighted to have representation from the Africa zone and full representation at the zonal qualification tournament. This really reflects the hard work being undertaken in the zone and member nations.
“Our work with the Africa zone showed our commitment to them and will result in even more teams in the future competing in the qualification tournament.”
The team felt very welcome at Rio 2016, Algerian Head Coach, Djawed Zigh, said “It is a great responsibility for our team. It’s our first time participating at a Paralympics and competing in this sort of competition at such a high performance level. However it provides great happiness for us to be here, representing a great continent such as Africa and also lots of women with many different disabilities.”
The Paralympic Games were a challenge for the team with the standard of the women’s game across the world improving all the time. Not only this but they had little time to prepare for the tournament and Algeria is also a country where it’s hard to convince women to take part because they are mostly expected not to play sport.
Nevertheless the twelve women who participated at the Paralympic Games did so with all their heart. Algeria’s captain Djamila Khemgani said, “It’s a great honour for me to play at Paralympic Games, for me it is the first time to be in a place such as this and I feel so excited and so happy to be part of such a great event.”
They may not have won a game at the Games however the achievement of just getting there and being part of the event is a success for them. Now they will look to improve said Algerian player, Halima Kedjoun: “We did not play well as a team or in harmony with each other, everybody played their own game as we only had a few months preparing together for the Games. We aren’t as well prepared as other teams however in the next tournament we will be and we will try and win a medal. I have really enjoyed this experience at the Paralympic Games and will take away what I have learnt from being here for the next one.”
Secretary General of IWBF, Maureen Orchard said, “For a first time team they should be pleased with their results and look to improve on this in the future. I met with their delegation leaders to congratulate them and encourage them to continue to support the team in the future.”
IWBF also hopes that it will become a standard expectation that a women’s team from Africa will qualify for major World events, Maureen Orchard explains: “They will need to host a qualifying tournament of four or more teams to retain their automatic spot for World events. IWBF awards the spots based on finishes in the last major games – 1 to the host – one to each of the zones and the rest to the zone based on the finishes of the countries from the zone.”